Friday, September 30, 2005

Slate on Gas

Slate has a good article on gasoline use and hybrids. Jane Galt has a post on it with lots of interesting comments. I left this comment:

The problem with relying on price as the determinant is that it's not good at predicting the future or measuring externalities. The US wants to get away from dependency on foreign oil for political reasons. We want to get away from oil for environmental reasons. We know we're going to have to move away from gasoline at some point in the future, but today's prices will not get us there. For one thing, fuel prices are notoriously inelastic. That's because you get so much personal value from fuel that most people are willing to pay whatever, especially in the short term. Believe me, riding a bike to school with backpack and sousaphone is not feasible. It's not much fun on the bus either. People whine like spoiled teenagers, but gas prices today are the best deal around.

The hybrid is one part of the solution, and we should encourage it. I have a Civic and I love it for a dozen reasons. Hybrid, like front-wheel drive, is just plain better. The technical expertise gained at conjoining multiple power sources will pay off strategically for future transitions. The recent NYT Magazine has an article about a prototype diesel-hybrid sports car that does 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and gets 80 mpg. The guy thinks we have to burn rubber to get Americans interested. The next article talks about "grass guzzlers".

To unleash this sort of innovation it would be best if prices remained high. Alternate vehicles, alternate fuels, new technologies, mass transit, are all encouraged by predictably high fuel prices. Unfortunately the excess money ends up flowing into the coffers of the least productive, most socially retrograde and dangerous people in the world. The best way to handle it is to maintain high prices and reduced consumption using a percentage based tax. That means our government gets the money rather than those who would use it against us.

LINKS: I have posted often on these subjects. Start here and here. And here's a website on hybrid cars.

9/30/2005 11:10 AM

UPDATE: The link to Jane Galt's post may reject you. I think it has a BlogSpot filter in it for some spam-proofing reason. Just put your cursor on the linkbox and hit return. If that doesn't work, try cut-and-paste starting at another site.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Plumbing the Depths of Prohibition

Here is a distressing story of government out of control, death and corruption in the name of "protecting" the public from "dangerous drugs". How could the drugs themselves be this dangerous? I can't find anything in the MSM about this.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Channeling

I’ve been watching the documentary about Bob Dylan, which is excellent by the way. It reminded me of how I hung on his words, puzzling them out. Listening again with my daughter, I hear instead the hurtfulness. I cannot help but feel sorry for Mister Jones and the poor dear with the leopard skin pillbox hat. As he would no doubt say, I don’t know anything about him – take it or leave it. I do know he has created works of a strange, ungraspable genius that challenge, amaze and distress us. I just wish he were a nicer guy.

I admit I would have been a different person without his music, and I couldn’t have written anything like this. Maybe he could make use of the poem I offer to him here:

Ode to Bobby Z.

  • You stand there wiping mud upon the windshield of your life
  • Wondering why the people push their questions and their strife.
  • No one passes muster in your eyes.
  • You’ve never found a soul you think is wise,
  • and you cannot keep from falling through the dreamtime you are calling with your steel guitar and bawling,
  • And I wonder how you really treat your wife.
  • The man says God has touched you not, but kicked you in the ass
  • He says you’re channeling his words -- or just an echo of his gas.
  • The hungry people stunned and fleeting
  • They’re drawn to wounded words you’re bleating,
  • and they cannot keep from falling through the dreamtime you are calling with your steel guitar and bawling,
  • And I wonder why you smear the ones you pass.

9/28/2005 10:03 PM


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Racism in Iraq

Fouad Ajami has an article in the WSJ explaining the real motives that keep the Sunnis fighting against democracy.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Simpson on the Drug War

Not much to add to my usual rant against the drug laws except that BBC's John Simpson notes that, not only do we sponsor price supports for "controlled" substances, but we also subsidize agriculture, forcing the prices of American farm products so low that even third world economies can't compete. So, essentially, we make it impossible for these poor bastards to grow anything except illegal drugs. How can this happen without Americans being generally aware of the inconsistency?

9/26/2005 9:38 AM

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Cybernetics of Radicalism

Random and weather-generated wave systems in the open ocean occasionally coincide fortuitously, reinforcing one another in cumulative ways that lead to rogue waves, dangerous waves with destructive power. Friction and complexity, however, combine to undermine these behemoths, sapping their strength. This is a negative feedback process, which generally prevents the ocean from being overwhelmed by unbounded wave growth.

Radical groups have a similar birth in the political chaos of the memeworld. When they reach a certain size and intensity, however, they sometimes fall prey to positive feedback effects. Unchained to the moderating effects of hard confrontation with reason and reality, these organizations can grow in power, unchecked until they consume the universe. What usually happens is that they become intolerable long before the forces of nature step in. They are then stopped by determined force, the imposition of negative feedback from an outside body. As an example, consider the animal rights organization PETA. Penn & Teller have put together a marvelous little exposé (linked from Sand Monkey’s post), showing us exactly how far these people have gone beyond the wide floodplain that constitutes mainstream thinking. Baron Bodissey has posted the description of a group even farther into the feedback process, along with proof of the progression. There is some good discussion about it on The Belmont Club

I believe that the source of the self-reinforcing process is basically oneupsmanship. The leader of a small group will say something extreme. As a consequence an auto-triage within the group will cause it to split into three groups:

  1. those who think that the leader has gone too far, causing internal dissension and schism
  2. those who love it and are lapping it up
  3. those who resent the leader’s popularity and decide to trump the extremism with something worse. If the leader doesn't keep up the new ones take charge.

This iterative process can commence very easily in any group that forms around a single idea. Even so sensible and sympathetic a group as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) seems to be moving along that road.

9/25/2005 11:55 PM

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Economicide II

South Africa has taken its first serious step toward "land reform" by seizing land, which was no doubt unfairly obtained, from a white farmer who did not wish to sell. I had been hoping for the best for South Africa, hoping that the majority black citizens, clearly in charge now, could mediate their well-warranted vengeful instincts. I have, I admit, been distressed by President Thabo Mbeki's foolish dive into pseudo-science regarding the AIDS problem there, but gratified by the unimpeded continuity of corporate activities and a beneficial business climate. SA has even been working with the Germans on building a modern pebble-bed reactor.

The worrisome part of the story is that one of Mbeki's deputies has publicly praised Zimbabwe for its land redistribution policies. To me it is clear that Zimbabwe has cut its own throat by alienating the skilled white farmers. I hate to see South Africa going the same route. To quote:

… But Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says the pace of reform should be speeded up - as in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where most white-owned land has been seized by the state.

"There needs to be a bit of oomph. That's why we may need the skills of Zimbabwe to help us," she said. …

----------------------

Note: Interesting angle on drug acquisition for Africa. Has anyone considered letting the government pay drug companies to do critical research rather than relying on the patent system? Patents are artificial, anti-competitive price supports that seem reasonably justified in many areas, but surely not for such a politically sensitive issue of life-and-death for millions.

9/24/2005 6:52 PM

UPDATE: Trade union boss accuses Mbeki of AIDS betrayal.

9/26/2005 9:20 AM

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Economicide

When things get rough for the government, they love to bring up the raw meat issues. Sometimes it's the flag-burning amendment to the Constitution. Other times it's cracking down on criminals and drug dealers. Right now the pseudo-wrath of Congress seems to be directed at the price gouging practiced by a variety of companies and entrepreneurs in the face of hurricane induced shortages.

Now, one man's gouge is another man's fair share. Everybody hates scalpers, but everybody does business with them. The reason can be found in any elementary economics textbook. Market prices constitute a system, a mechanism, that assures the optimal distribution of scarce goods. Why optimal? The goods go to the people who are willing to spend the most money, even in bad weather. Well, you say, that means only rich people can afford them. Well, I say, I hate to be hard-hearted, but there have to be rewards for being rich. Otherwise people wouldn't bother to earn the money, to build the economy, to provide the jobs, to feed the poor. Poor people can, as a hedge, also plan ahead, saving their small money for a rainy-day emergency, or they could anticipate the possible impact of storms on their lives. To be both poor and irresponsible is a risky combination. Having been both, I speak from personal knowledge. Sometimes you find that you don't have the resources to protect yourself, and you find yourself at the mercy of somebody like the Sheriff of the City of Gretna. Sometimes government cannot protect you.

We have to understand that Capitalism is nasty. People have been trying to find a way around it for centuries. The Roman masses were always crying about grain prices. The United States has, however, accepted Capitalism wholeheartedly and been generally rewarded for the choice. It's hypocritical to start complaining about it now. OTOH, we have not given it complete free rein. The limited government controls, in general, have been made toward encouraging truth, public safety and honest competition. And in this light, I say that scalping is honest competition. So is price gouging. If the scalpers guess wrong, they have to eat their tickets. If the price gougers guess right, they get to reap happy profits and provide a necessary service that wasn't there before. Not only that, they will also try real hard to guess right the next time. Laws restricting this laudable activity would be very foolish.

The unfortunate shortages after Katrina were natural, somewhat expected, plannable. What we really need to worry about are the unnatural shortages, induced by monopolies, unfair business practices, excessive concentrations of wealth and power, extortion rackets, market manipulation, price-fixing, predatory pricing, prohibition, corruption, special pleading, cartels, government favoritism and tactical legislation. Why aren't the Congresscritters worried about those things?

9/23/2005 12:01 AM

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Red Letter Day

I believe that a lot of good was done today in New York. Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco, was sentenced to prison for a long time. This was no "club fed" slap on the wrist. I don't think he's going to be joining Chuck Colson's prayer group any time soon. In fact, a lot of elites are complaining about the severity of the sentence. Why, they ask, is a harmless white collar criminal being treated worse than a brutal street thug?

The answer is that the thug is doing retail what Kozlowski was doing wholesale. This guy was not Henry Ford or Thomas Edison. He was not creating wealth and making innovative breakthroughs. He was not taking great business risks for a greater business payoff. He was gaming the system in order to feed his unchecked appetites. I suspect, if you were a fly on his shoulder, you would have seen and heard many unsavory things. I have stated before that I believe the misuse of large sums of money is one of the greatest crimes. Saddam probably killed as many Iraqis with his corruption as with his weapons.

9/20/2005 11:34 PM

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Debunking Frenzy

Debunking Frenzy

Kevin Drum is doing a great job of separating the wheat from the chaff on Washington Monthly. If you have any evidence to overturn the common knowledge, leave a comment.

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Silver Lining

Silver Lining

Khalid Jarrar of the Iraqi blog Tell Me a Secret, has a story. He was abducted by the new Iraqi secret police and treated very badly. It sounds like he had a lot of company with him, all Sunnis I suspect. The Iraqi government is using a lot of Saddamist techniques. It's what they learned from him. I can only hope that things will get better. One piece of good news about it though. A judge said there was insufficient evidence to hold him and he was released!

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Poems for a Hurricane

Frank Warner has a poetry post. He inspired me to write my own. Read the comments too.

Limitations

  • If you have some time to spend,
  • take St. Charles to the end,
  • past all the Muses as it clacks along.
  • The levee stops it like an interrupted song.

  • Climb up top, it may be hard to do.
  • The top is wide – a field or two.
  • A good place to walk, but no one to see.
  • I remember being lonely.

  • The wind can be cold. You even get some snows
  • and northern slush to soak your shoes and toes.

  • I can’t imagine though,
  • the kind of thing to break it.

9/14/2005 1:58 AM

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Do What You Can

Do What You Can

This Katrina story out of Texas is either one admirable tall tale or a more admirable description of someone who knows how to do what needs to be done. The people who do the most good are often the ones who don't have the authority to do it. I envy and admire them, and I love this country.

9/12/2005 8:48 PM

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Evolving as We Speak

Everybody is talking about a new finding in human genetics. Some papers by Bruce T. Lahn, Ph.D., have been publicized in the BBC, as well as elsewhere. Dr. Lahn thinks that we are "still getting smarter". Two genes in particular have been tentatively traced back to date and place of origin. The first, a brain-related mutation occurring 37,000 years is now represented in 70% of the human species. This is big for two reasons. 1) There are 30% of us who do not carry the gene, and 2) the speed of uptake by the gene pool indicates it is something that makes an impressive difference in fitness.

The second gene is even more interesting. It will make for a lot of very disturbing speculation. It appeared just 5,800 years ago, about the time that civilization began to take off, and is now distributed among approximately 30% of the human population. The related eugenics issues have got to push a lot of hot buttons. Social Darwinism is always lurking in the wings. Moreover, the coincidental time of the gene’s appearance will provoke fundamentalist Christians in unpredictable ways.

The deeper the scientists dig, the more they find. There will be more and more emotionally challenging findings as time goes on. Will we respond with denial and taboo, or with fascination and adaptation? Will we be using this knowledge to modify our society, economy and environment in an inclusive way, to get the best from all, or will we continue to emphasize estrangement from one another, contest, competition, winners and losers?

I believe we are indeed getting smarter, but it’s certainly not completely, or even substantially, a genetic issue. These differences exist, but are not nearly as important as what we choose to do.

9/12/2005 2:46 AM

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

More Than Picking up the Pieces

Mallory has a post on Flight 93. It is the most fitting response on anniversaries of disaster to ponder what loss and sacrifice can teach us. It is not enough just to honor the dead and write them off as part of the great cycle of life and death, to conclude that all things rise up only to be destroyed. If the flight had merely crashed, with a chance of survivors, others would have risked their lives to recover them alive. Since there were none, we could not. Nevertheless, they would want us to choose life in some other way. The way I mean is to seek understanding and to make wise choices. Here are some words that flash the strobe light of wisdom on the stumbling awareness of our present miseries.

The events of September 11, 2001, though entirely unnatural, shed light on the nature of all disasters. That day saw the near-total failure of centralized authority. The United States has the largest and most technologically advanced military in the world, but the only successful effort to stop the commandeered planes from becoming bombs was staged by the unarmed passengers inside United Airlines Flight 93. They pieced together what was going on by cell-phone conversations with family members and organized themselves to hijack their hijackers, forcing the plane to crash in that Pennsylvania field.

This is a quote from The Uses of Disaster in Harper's, by Rebecca Solnit. BoingBoing's Mark Frauenfelder pointed it out. The article looks at the social process associated with disasters. What typically happens, why, and where it leads. This is thinking about patterns and systems rather than isolated events. If we are very bright, we should be able to predict what will come next -- unlike our bureaucratic government. Give it a try, won't you. Ask yourself the questions. That's what science is all about. Predict, Assess, Correct.

9/11/2005 11:52 PM

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Black Humor

Prairie Angel posted this unattributed quote, a sly and malicious bon mot that I could not resist:

Overheard: "They're barring the press from NOLA so they can get away with counting every dead body as 3/5 of a person, in accordance with the Framers' Original Intent."

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Hitchens on Katrina

Christopher Hitchens was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting System today. He is not minimizing the extent of the Federal culpability. He is not defending Bush. In fact he points out that there were abundant resources which were not employed. He points out that the USS Bataan(video) is on station in the Gulf, capable of desalinating seawater to produce 50k gallons/day of drinking water. We all know about the acres of empty school buses, unused and unprotected. Hitchens thinks this is all very bad for the President.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, in terms of political psyche, shall we say, it's good for the Democrats in about five different ways. One, it reminds people of the existence of the underclass, which tends to be downplayed, shall we say, by the Republican Party. Second it reminds people of the importance of government spending and government services, again, I think the same intuitive or subliminal point applies. Third it makes it at a populous level anyway harder to make a solid case for Iraq, though it doesn't really alter the case about whether you think the war is a just or necessary one. And then fourthly, it reflects very badly on the personality of the President himself. So this is not, I think, a transient story. This is not something that is going to be confined to the Weather Channel, shall we say. I think it will be remembered as a hinge event in the second term.


I'm inclined to think that when the enormity of the disaster becomes more widely understood, the blame will be widely distributed and the failures will be largely forgiven.

9/9/2005 1:31 PM

UPDATE: Michael Totten points to this Hitchens piece on Katrina. 5:21 Michael Totten, himself, is pretty ticked off, mostly at FEMA. This BBC analysis says that there is more than enough blame to spread around.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Strangled in The Crib

There are two important non-Katrina articles that you should read which have been much discussed. Wretchard shows us the death rattle of Gaza, the beginning of the end for the Palestinian state. Also, 3*(Eject&) brings you the poop on canine tribes.

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No Heroes Here

InstaPundit references a filtered survivor story, rife with desperation, police brutality, racism and cowardice. Glenn doesn't want to believe it. I don't want to, but I do. The Prairie Angel believes it completely. The authors, Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, are being painted as political propagandists. Here's the original. Hey, say it ain't so.

9/8/2005 2:33 PM

UPDATE: Frank Warner says that at least part of the story has been confirmed by one of the perpetrators. 9/10/2005 12:21 AM

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Wal-Mart to The Rescue

It is necessary to commend loudly those who do not ordinarily deserve it. WalMart, one of the aggrieved parties in the looting, has exceeded anyone's expectations in helping Katrina victims. THANK YOU SAM, WHEREVER YOU ARE!!!!

Actually, the credit for about $20M in aid is probably due to Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. The Post article notes that Wal-Mart had 45 truckloads of relief goods loaded and ready to deliver from its Brookhaven, Mississippi, facility before the storm made landfall!! That beats the tar out of any government response. You have to say that there are good people at Wal-Mart.

All that stuff said, this generosity highlights one of the troubles that I have with Wal-Mart. The fact that Wal-Mart can absorb such a loss and still respond with a gigantic charitable donation speaks to a dangerous concentration of power in the retail industry. I’m hoping that the price of fuel stays high to protect some of Wal-Mart’s smaller scale competitors from the lure of the super-store.

9/8/2005 10:16 AM

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Pipes:The Criminal Form of Islam

Prisons in the US should be focused on real criminals, not drug addicts. Unless the inmate has diagnosable mental problems, sentences should be relatively short and uncomfortable. The strategy should be culture modification. IMO, solitary confinement is the appropriate way to handle lawbreakers, with a great deal of oversight, instruction, rehabilitation and, on being released, transfer to distant halfway houses. The money saved from ending the drug war will easily pay for all this.

One of the reasons to do all this is to end the culture of racism, gangsterism and now, religious extremism, which has taken hold in our prisons. Daniel Pipes has posted an article on the religious aspect.

M.Simon of PowerAndControl talks about the consequences of the drug war frequently. Here's his recent post on the DEA's nostalgia for Prohibition. Here's another anti-prohibition site that posts some interesting stuff. Peter Guither's latest post looks forward to the day when we do drug war re-enactments.

9/8/2005 9:11 AM

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bigger Mess Than Expected

People generally don't think very deeply about the consequences of what they do. That's one reason we have building codes. When your neighbor puts up a tin sheet as a roof for his autoport, you might think it ugly, but it never occurs to you that it might become a lethal threat during high winds. Ever since the ancient pyramid at Meidum collapsed, we have been learning from catastrophe. The next one we are going to learn is how to store chemicals and cars in hurricane zones. Gregg Easterbrook points out that we may well have to permanently seal off parts of New Orleans simply because of a crazy-quilt of pollution.

The oil producers may have already learned some of these lessons. I have been surprised by the speed at which production in the Gulf is returning to normal.

UPDATE: InstaPundit highlights this post by Varifrank to clue us in on the next massive wave of NOLA pollution, a more mundane variety, but very toxic to the status quo. For some reason Varifrank is looking forward to it. It's about a dead fish.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

" ... the wind came out of the cloud by night ... "

Wretchard continues to astonish and inform. Among other things, he brings us a new light on an old poem -- what it was really saying.

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Changing The Subject

Behold the Flying Spaghetti Monster, chief deity of the pastafarians.

It seems out of character, I know, but I’m inclined to agree with President Bush that Intelligent Design is worth teaching in our public schools. He might not agree, however, with the scope of imagination that I would advocate for such a program. The greatest puzzles have not yet been answered, and there is every reason for a reasonable person to believe that behind it all somewhere is a planner, a thinker, something we could relate to, or maybe something else.

After they understood the basics, here are a few things I would want my students to speculate on. Let me ask you. Who came before the Big Bang and how did they get there? Who will pick up the pieces at the end? How can the Universe be with no one to see? Where does a black hole come out? How can all the stuff that we know fit in our heads? Why is the value of pi knowable? Could the value of pi be something else in another universe? What is Free Will? How did those damn finches get to the Gallapagos? So they flew? Then how did the turtles get there? Do you know how far it is to the Gallapagos? Why is there so much more variety among dogs than wolves? Why do some species, living fossils they call them, fail to change at all over millions of years? How did ancient humans breed bigger grain without the basic understanding of selection processes? Wouldn’t they eat all the big grains and throw the little ones back on the soil? Why are the ancient languages more formal, precise and sophisticated than modern ones? How did the ancient Hindus know that the age of the world was measured in billions of years? If people with small heads are as likely to be intelligent as people with large heads, then why don’t we all have small heads? If we take as given that the human form and custom is superior to that of other animals, why would the chimpanzees be permitted to evolve from the same ancestors as humans did, but in the wrong direction? ... Just asking.

Will Wright, creator of Sims and SimCity, is working on a simulated evolution game where the user can play God. That should be very interesting. I think that his games have already changed the world. I imagine it was very hard to be a flat-earther after Jules Verne.

9/4/2005 12:27 AM

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Friday, September 02, 2005

A General Evacuation Order

Wretchard points to an article in the Scientific American that should have been heeded. In October 2001 it explained all the reasons why New Orleans was in trouble. I guess we had other things on our minds at the time. Can we now take the time to look around and decide what else we might have overlooked?

I believe that we are vulnerable in many ways because of population concentration, particularly on the coasts. Few dispute that the sea levels are rising. Development in flood plains and coastal areas continues unabated. Moreover, many expect nuclear terrorism to succeed at some point, and the possibility of more severe storms in the future cannot be discounted. The U.S. already seems to follow some policies that encourage population dispersion, such as farm price supports and interstate highways. Perhaps now we should consider making such decentralizing policies consciously.

DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York, once ran for president. Most people remember him, however, for the inspired concept of building a canal from the Hudson to Lake Erie. This concept was the parent, on one hand, of some of New Orleans current problems, and on the other hand represents the first effort to encourage population dispersion in the US. The railroads coming a few years later were the next such effort.

To this end, I would like to see a network of high-speed maglev rail lines constructed among the second tier inland cities of the US. It would give these cities an economic allure that could overcome the fatal attractions of the coast, reverse the decline of those cities, and reduce our destructive dependence on the automobile monoculture. Pay for it with a gas tax. Economic and technological diversity are more important than the puny economies of scale and standardization. Is anybody thinking about this stuff now?

9/2/2005 12:35 AM

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Disaster Unspoken

There is no happy talk on Winds of Change today. The scope of the disaster in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast has apparently been hidden from us in order to minimize panic. At this point, I'm not sure how much damage could be done by panic. The situation is very bad. There are people still alive who will die today, tomorrow and the the next day. Let us find a way to help those we can help.

I would like to help. I imagine most people would like to help. I suspect that volunteers, at this point, will just get in the way. The situation is very bad, but I suspect that financial contributions will help somewhat, but be careful where you send them. Many people recommend the American Red Cross. InstaPundit has a long list. My father, from experiences many years ago, had high praise for the Salvation Army. If I hear of anything that sounds sensible, I'll post it.

One small suggestion: Some high profile blogger should start a spare housing network. I know many people who have extra room in their houses who could put up a family for a few weeks. We're pretty far from NOLA though.

-----------------------

M.Simon sent me that link to the Winds of Change post. His post also has a discussion of what to do next time. His main recommendation is the use of plug-in hybrids to protect against gasoline shortage, and conversely to serve as generators when the electrical power goes offline. This, I think, is a brand new idea.

My earlier post on plug-in hybrids is here.

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